Because we read the Bible in English, puns and other wordplay are lost in translation. Understanding this vision depends on a play on the Hebrew words translated "summer fruit" and "end." Amos answers God's question by saying he saw ripe fruit. But, when God responds, He uses a similar sounding word to suggest the time was ripe for His people.
The fruit represents people. If ripe, they were ready either to be used or to rot. God says the time is ripe for picking Israel. God had tried to get the people to repent, but in their hardheaded and hardhearted way, they would not. John the Baptist uses a different metaphor for the Jews of his day: The ax is about to fall (Matthew 3:10). God's patience had run out. He would "not pass by them anymore." In their spiritually oblivious state, disaster would take them by surprise.
Could we be taken by surprise?
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. (I Thessalonians 5:1-6)
This passage sounds strikingly similar to Amos 8. Could we be lulled into complacency? Is God's hand involved in world events, while we think we have plenty of time before the end? Are we motivated to make use of the time left to us? God says the time is ripe. He gives us time to repent, but that time grows shorter daily.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)